Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
Better than… folk songs by the fireplace.
They say go big or go home. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down did both. Playing Los Angeles as the last night of “a very long tour,” Thao should have been exhausted, but performed with big energy and big sound. And the crowd gave (some of that) energy back.
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down are a San Francisco band, with Thao herself hailing from Falls Church, VA. She grew up playing guitar between customers at her mother's laundromat and went on to work with a laundry list of well-regarded artists while touring in her 20s. With a solid track record – and a solid new record in We the Common – indie-pop Thao is known for her upbeat sound and meaningful lyrics, that just got a little more meaningful.
This album marks Thao's return to touring after a year's hiatus and captures Thao's desire to, “try to actually be a real live person, rather than just singing songs about them.” This desire inspired her year of volunteer work in a women's prison, which, in turn, inspired this album. Now, We the Common is where it should be – among the people – and, having gone big, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down has gone home.
The show opened with Portland's Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside, warming up the space as the last third of the crowd filtered in. After the first song, Ford drew focus with her good-natured threat not to play until the disco ball was on — it was still a serious request. Luckily, before long, on the disco ball went.
10:15pm The fans that had gathered along the balcony railing thickened, going from one to two rows deep. Everyone's so ready that a guy on the floor is stretching.
10:20pm Thao starts singing, her hips start swaying, and smartphones start snapping. In case there were any doubt the show had begun, strong yellow lights blared and the walls began to pulse. Warmed by the opening act, the room was now coming alive. And Thao, grooving her shoulders, was lost in her own music, jamming with her eyes shut, or nearly so.
10:30pm With Thao cradling a banjo, you might've expected a countrified persona to shine through. But instead, she channeled an energetic tween, jumping up and down, and seemed to be in her room alone, rocking out to her favorite song.
10:40pm The band started in on “We Don't Call” and it felt like we were hearing the opening credits of a favorite movie franchise — a good story was being promised. The audience, previously stiff-legged, began to bop.
10:45pm Thao, in her hot pink dress and cowboy boots, informed the crowd that this song had a line about California… but as they'd toured, she'd changed it, to whichever not-so-Golden state or city they were in. She now wanted the crowd to know, “It's not Albaquerque or Iowa City,” it's really about California. And they wanted her to know — big cheer! — they were glad for this. The bluegrassy sound was reminiscent of O Brother Where Art Thou. And then, just to be crystal clear, Thao switched out California… for Los Angeles. Bigger cheer!
11:00pm A fan, let's call her “Mohawk,” handed her camera to her friend for a photo op with the band in the background. It was important she got this just right.
11:05pm Thao requested, “Everybody find some hips please,” and everybody did. She sang “vacation” in her lyrics and the crowd suddenly seemed appropriately ocean-like, swaying as one. Mohawk turned to her photographer, “Wanna dance?” Photographer: “I'm fine,” and gave Mohawk the hand. The photographer was the only one who could hold back.
11:10pm A seamless addition thus far, the baritone saxophone we'd been hearing all night was unique to our L.A. show, and was about to get its biggest moment yet: Thao stretched out “We The Common” and segued into Ludacris' “What's Your Fantasy?” “This is actually a Luda tribute tour,” she joked. “And I'm glad that you could make it.”
11:15pm Thao dedicated the last song to Valerie Bolden, serving a life sentence at the California Institution for Women, without whom this record would not exist. The audience was at its most participatory as she sang her title track, joining in on the “ooo”s.
11:20pm A minute and a half of applause as Thao & The Get Down Stay Down exited and reentered. The final song – of a two song encore – bolstered Thao's reputation for being perky and quirky. And showed just how irresistible that combination could be. She and Ford launched into a duet, covering The Ronettes' “Be My Baby.”
Personal Bias: I used to Slip 'N Slide with the director of the band's upcoming music video.
The Crowd: Matched the sound. Not-quite-hipster. Effortless, enthusiastic, real. The exception? “Mohawk,” who had one, along with face piercings, and tats. She was the most unique, but also the most enthusiastic, pumping her fist in the air. She set the curve.
Random Notebook Dump: Less “vocalist,” more “just a girl singing.”
Know Better Learn Faster
The Feeling kind
We Don't Call
Kindness Be Conceived
The Day Long
Age of Ice
When We Swam other
We the Common (for Valerie Bolden)
Body In Your Bed
Be My Baby